Graeber, born in New York City to Jewish parents, is often called an anthropologist, but this is to lose sight of his radicalism and activism. He was also a prolific author and, more recently, the source of the “We are the 99%” slogan that characterised the Occupy movement, in so doing frightening the political and financial establishments of both the USA and UK. He was also an unswerving supporter of Jeremy Corbyn.
It is perhaps because he is remembered for being an activist, for often being involved in campaigning, that news of his death has come as such a shock. It did to Ash Sarkar, who told “Shocked to my core to hear that David Graeber has passed away. He's been a teacher to so many of us, full of kindness and mischief and patience. I can't believe it. This is completely devastating”. Why this should be can be explained in his own words.
This is what he said about claims of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party. “I think a Corbyn victory would be the best possible thing for the safety of the Jewish community internationally … I’m from a Jewish family originally from New York, I’ve been living in this country for about 12 years now. I’m making an appeal: stop this”. There was more.
“Please, for the sake of my safety. Fanning the flames is making things dangerous. What actually threatens Jews, the people who actually want to kill us, are Nazis. Fascism is on the rise. If Corbyn is crushed, those are they guys who are going to profit from it - the extreme right. People who are actually showing up with automatic weapons at synagogues, trying to murder us, are the guys who are inspired by Steve Bannon”.
Indeed. “Steve Bannon is a friend of Boris Johnson. That’s the politics. When these guys mobilise, they’re coming after us. And who’s going to be standing up against them? I mean, we all know from history - the cops tend to disappear when those guys hit the streets. The guys who are standing up for us are the Corbynites”. And more.
“People are acting like Momentum is some kind of anti-Semitic organisation. I know the founders of Momentum. There’s four of them. Three of them are Jewish. Corbyn’s speechwriter is Jewish. If you really want to fight anti-Semitism, you should do exactly what the Corbyn people did do in the Labour Party - create a forum where everyone can say whatever they want, and some people are going to say anti-Semitic stuff”.
“Because, let’s face it, this is an anti-Semitic society, this stuff is everywhere. It’s only if you bring it out that you can then address it. The Corbyn people, whatever else you can say about them, have inspired young people to imagine that society could be different than it is today. It’s stupid to cry wolf when there are real wolves baying at the door, especially when the people you are crying wolf against are the guys who are most likely to defend us when the wolves show up. That’s going to be a disaster for Jewish people”.
It is direct, it is searingly accurate and honest, and it once again shows the dangers of accepting what so many with vested interests said about the previous Labour leadership. Doing so led too many good people to give their vote to the wicked and cynical, those who were not involved as Graeber was involved, and never will be.
That should give a flavour of why so many on the left are saying “Rest in Power” today. I can do no better than give Ms Sarkar, someone who knew Graeber and learned from his example, the last word. “There wouldn't have been a Novara without David Graeber and Mark Fisher. So many of us who came through the student movement stand on their shoulders. It feels terrible to know we've run out of opportunities to tell them that”.
David Graeber, activist and author, February 12, 1961 - September 2, 2020. Farewell.
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